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“Let Him Kiss Me” on Song of Songs 1:1-4 by Joe Ellis — September 10, 2023

Welcome to The Song of Songs. What a strange world this book is! So very unlike any other book that you will find in the Bible. When you read commentaries on The Song of Songs, you’ll find that the introduction to this book is so much longer than you’ll find in other commentaries for other books in the Bible, mainly because it takes a lot to come to terms with just what exactly we are encountering.

In this book we are dealing with desire, longing, love, heartache, heartsickness, pleasure, pain, hope, and despair. We encounter, we touch, we taste, and we smell through the poetry just what it means to be human. Perhaps that’s why it's called The Song of Songs. This set of poems gets its name from the first verse, which reads, “The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.” Naming these poems, “The Song of Songs”, is a Hebrew way of saying, this is the best of all songs. You may have heard a similar name for the holiest place in the temple, “The Holy of Holies”. So, in naming this set of poems The Song of Songs, the author(s) are inviting listeners to listen deeply, to not turn away, to pay attention, for this is The Song above all Songs. Maybe I should point out now that this book isn’t called The Sex Manual of Sex Manuals. It's certainly not that. This book is also not called The Dating Guide of Dating Guides. A young couple would be seriously confused if you had them read these poems at the beginning of their relationship. No, this is The Song of Songs — and by the end of our time contemplating these poems, you’ll have to decide whether you really do agree that these are The Song of Songs.

Now, you’ll see that Solomon’s name is there in that first verse. Many are not sure precisely why his name is there. Most likely it was to give a sense of legitimacy and authority to the poems. The preposition attached to his name could read, “Of Solomon”, “For Solomon”, “by Solomon”, or “concerning Solomon”. My take is that Solomon did not write any, or not most of these poems — his name being there doesn’t force us to adopt that conclusion. Plus, the rest of the book has only two references to Solomon. In one of those, Solomon is being mocked quite mercilessly. I won’t be assuming that Solomon is the author. In fact, poets don’t do much to tip their hand to reveal who he or she is, or who they are.

Speaking of poetry, I should say quickly that this is a single song, comprised of many different songs. You could say it is one song in that the poems throughout this book are held together by similar themes, characters, and vocabulary. Yet within this one song you have about twenty distinct poems — interpreters disagree on the exact number. These poems are like poems you’d find in an anthology of poetry. What I mean by that is, that while there are similarities in all the poems, there isn’t a linear, overarching plot going from poem to poem to poem. For example, in one poem the couple seems to be clearly married, in a later poem they appear to be courting — there is not a linear plot to follow.

I should also say The Song of Songs is Wisdom Literature, just like the book of Proverbs. This may seem funny, because the book of Proverb’s is full of practical advice and the Song of Songs seems mainly about the joys of sex and romance. But let’s keep in mind that Wisdom Literature is the art of applying God’s will to the nitty-gritty of life. Could it be that The Song of Songs is truly that? What sort of Wisdom might we glean from this book? All sorts.

Here is a free little nugget of wisdom that you can grab even from the first few verses. In the Hebrew Bible, The Song of Songs comes right after The Book of Ruth, and before that is the Book of Proverbs. In the last chapter of Proverbs we are invited to contemplate what a virtuous woman might look like. You may have heard this as the Proverbs 31 type of woman, and people say, “Yup, this is what a virtuous woman should be like.” But then the next two books in the Hebrew Bible give us two more examples of what a virtuous woman might be like. The first book is Ruth, and Ruth is famous for her unflagging devotion and loyalty to her mother-in-law. Ruth is one type of virtuous woman for us to consider. Then comes the Song of Songs, and we meet another type of virtuous woman, and her first words are “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” and “Draw me after you, let us make haste."

Now, this woman in The Songs of Songs is quite an interesting example of a virtuous woman. Did you notice that she is the one who has the first word? She is the one who begins the dialogue, and she starts out pursuing the man. This is Wisdom Literature, this is an example of a strong, assertive woman, voicing her desire for intimacy (of course, because this is within the canon of Scripture, we assume that she is voicing her desire to go to his bedchamber within the bounds of a committed, covenant relationship). Hearing such a woman speak may have been very subversive to ancient audiences, as it no doubt is subversive in Christian contexts where women are expected to keep their proper place in life and romance. Thank God for Wisdom Literature!

The Song of Songs is Wisdom Literature written to celebrate human love as one of the most beautiful gifts of the Creator to humankind. The Song of Songs not only impacts how we think about gender roles and sexuality — it shapes how we think about the Bible and Sexuality. The woman’s first lines reveal that what we are joining in on a biblical celebration of human love and sexuality.

Does that seem like a contradiction in terms? Biblical Celebration of love and sexuality? It may seem that way to many. After all, most of what you read about sex and sexuality elsewhere in the Bible can seem like it's about what not to do. Some have gotten the idea that the Bible mostly thinks that sex and sexuality is a bad and dangerous taboo, which is best be avoided. Some might have the impression that it’d be best if you never had sex, thought about sex, or even knew that you were a sexual person. Thankfully, that’s where The Song of Songs comes in and shapes how we read about sex in the rest of the Bible, with its provocative, flamboyant and flagrant affirmation of sex and sexuality. “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth — for your loving is more delightful than wine!”

The Old Testament Scholar, Tremper Longman, says “Without the Song, the Church and synagogue would be left with spare and virtually exclusively negative words about an important aspect of our lives. Sexuality is a major aspect of the human experience, and God in his wisdom has spoken through the poet(s) of The Song to encourage and warn us about its power in our lives”.

God wants us to know that desire, sex and sexuality are not simply bad, dangerous taboos in need of suppression. Do you believe Him? Are you willing to consider your own desire for sex? Your own desire to be touched? To be longed for? To be held? To be delighted in? Are you willing to consider your own sexuality? Your own gendered-ness?

For men, often the only time we talk to God about our sexuality is when something has gone wrong in our sexuality department. We feel like we screwed up, lusted inappropriately, and so we come before God with a sense of shame seeking forgiveness. Seeking forgiveness is important, but perhaps God isn’t only interested in speaking to us about our sexuality when we’ve screwed up. Maybe we can talk to him about our sexuality, our desires, our sense of what it means to be a man (or a woman), outside of the context of feeling like a failure. What if we talked to him about our sexuality simply to share with him who we are, and how he made us.

The Song of Songs can help us with this. The Song of Songs presents a very particular slice of human experience — yet for most of us, we are unlikely to find ourselves in a place where we’re reading it and saying, “Oh yeah, that’s me.” Not many of us throughout our day echo the woman’s first line in the song: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth — for your loving is more delightful than wine!” Many of us aren’t in the place where we can, or maybe even want to say that. That being so, it could be that this poetry creates a sense of alienation. “Good for you, Song of Songs woman, I’m so happy for you.” Or “How am I supposed to hear her joy if I have no one to say that to?” And “How should I share her joy if no one is saying that to me?” Or, perhaps I’m feeling contempt right now for that person who I am supposed to say that to. Or perhaps, my body is falling apart, and those desires feel so far away. What can this brazen woman teach me — except resentment? That’s certainly a risk in reading this poetry, isn’t it?

But even if we don’t identify her language as our own, we are invited to try it on as though it were our own. This bride and her counterpart, the bridegroom, are the main characters in these poems. You don’t get the sense that these are historical people, or actually existing humans. They don’t have names like Jill and Ralph. You don’t get a sense of who they are aside from the fact that they are humans who love and desire, ache and hurt, long and sigh, hope and despair, sin and find redemption. They are you and me insofar as you and me can relate to love and desire, aching, hurting, longing and sighing, hoping and despairing, sinning and finding restoration.

The poet(s) are inviting us to become the characters in this poem, just for a little while. To feel what they feel, to long for their longings, to enjoy their joys, to feel their hurts, regardless of our station in life. This may feel dangerous — like, when the woman says “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for your loving is better than wine,” and we are invited into the drama. Is that OK? Am I just indulging in fantasy? Are we really to start fantasizing about her breasts, which the man later describes as a pair of fawns? Again, this can feel like risky business, in that we are invited to encounter our own desire and longings as we read these poems. We are invited to find ourselves thirsting for love, love that is better than wine. We are invited to breathe in the intoxicating smell of the lover about whom she says, “For fragrance, your oils are goodly.” We are invited to pay attention to the desire shaping within us — the desire that cries out with her: “Draw me after you!” As she expresses her desire, her passion, longing, and erotic hopes — each of us are invited to become aware of the fact that we have or have had erotic desire, desires to be loved, held, caressed, and touched passionately. Or we might become aware that we are repulsed by those thoughts.

This is not poetry only for happily married couples. All who read this poem are called to reckon with these dimensions of themselves — whether you are in a joyful or difficult marriage; whether you are divorced, widowed, or single; whether you are a virgin or have had a long string of sexual encounters; whether you are gay or straight, — The Song of Songs invites all of us to consider that we are creatures made with sexuality as a inextricable and precious part of our humanity.

Genesis 1 reminds us: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”The Song of Songs invites you to come face to face with your God-given gift of sexuality. Face to face with your desires, urges, longings, feelings, hopes, hurts, pain, trauma, and deep frustrations. The Song of Songs doesn’t let us ignore any of this. So what do we do with that?

Remember that The Song of Songs is in dialogue with the rest of Scripture. And it is throughout the rest of Scripture that we encounter God as a lover, as a bridegroom. Jesus explicitly invites us to think of him in this language. Throughout Scripture, Israel and the Church are the Bride. For most of Jewish and Christian history, The Song of Songs has been read as a love song between God and Israel, and between Jesus and the Church. In Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Psalms, as well as other books, God repeatedly identifies himself as the husband of Israel. The Apostle John, Paul and Jesus himself invited us to think of the Messiah as the Bridegroom to the Bride, which is the Church.

So, when we encounter our sexuality in The Song of Songs, we are invited to take whatever is stirred up within us to our Bridegroom, to Jesus. Even if we might feel uncomfortable, afraid, frustrated, or bewildered, we are not left without any place to go. We are invited to bring our sexuality, our desires and our longings, our frustrations, our secrets, our shame, our fear, and our hope to the Bridegroom. I think when many of us talk to Jesus about our sexuality, we’re mainly asking him to take it away: “Jesus, please help me to get rid of my sexual longings and desires. They’re nothing but trouble.”

Reading The Song of Songs, may show us another way to talk with Jesus — knowing that only He can truly satisfy. As St. Augustine prayed after a youth of promiscuity and illicit lovers. He prayed, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Perhaps, we can pray through The Song of Songs, and find rest in the presence of God. Not in a way so as to deny our sexuality, but to fulfill our sexuality. Christians throughout the history of the church have prayed these words: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth,” knowing that our desires find their ultimate fulfillment in Him.

What would it be like to speak with God openly about your sexuality, your desire or frustrations about intimacy, your desire for healing, for restoration, or your desire to be desired, wanted and pursued. What would happen if you came to God with your desires, talking to Him about what those words “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” stir up for you? What if you trusted that He will hear your prayer as the Lover of your soul, and respond in a way that is wholly and completely satisfying? Trust Him, He will.


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